09.09.2016

The PRO ASYL Foun­da­ti­on honors Mus­sie Zerai for his tireless efforts regar­ding the res­cue and admis­si­on of refu­gees in dis­tress at sea.

For many, his num­ber is the last hope: the foun­da­ti­on PRO ASYL awards its human rights award 2016 to the priest and refu­gee aid worker Mus­sie Zerai, who has been invol­ved in the res­cue of refu­gees in dis­tress at sea for more than ten years with unpar­al­leled effort.

Mus­sie Zerai knows what it means to arri­ve in a for­eign socie­ty. He was 16 years old when he arri­ved in Ita­ly in 1992 as a refu­gee. In the first years he deli­vers news­pa­pers, sells fruit, trans­la­tes for a Bri­tish priest. Later he stu­dies theo­lo­gy and phi­lo­so­phy. After his ordi­na­ti­on to priest­hood the catho­lic church in Rome sends him to Switz­er­land as a minis­ter.

When an Ita­li­an jour­na­list asks him in 2003 if he could help him as an inter­pre­ter in a Liby­an pri­son, Zerai for the first time comes into con­tact with Eri­tre­an refu­gees on their way to Euro­pe. The sto­ries of his com­pa­tri­ots won’t let go of him from then on and he views it as his duty to help. Soon after his visit to pri­son he recei­ves calls from peop­le he met the­re and a litt­le later also from refu­gees in dis­tress at sea. Someo­ne had etched Mus­sie Zerai’s pho­ne num­ber into a pri­son wall with the note: »In emer­gen­ci­es, call this num­ber!«

In this way sin­ce 2004 the pho­ne num­ber of the dedi­ca­ted priest is the last hope for many boat refu­gees – and in many cases instru­men­tal in their res­cue. »Dear Baba, help us quick­ly. We have no food, no water and the mobi­le pho­ne bat­te­ry is almost empty«, Mus­sie Zerai has recei­ved thousands of dis­tress calls like this for more than ten years.

When calls from dis­tress at sea reach him, Zerai imme­dia­te­ly con­tac­ts the Ita­li­an coast guard. He lear­ned quick­ly what is important, if a res­cue attempt is to be suc­cess­ful. The Ita­li­an coast guard esti­ma­tes that Mus­sie Zerai has saved the lives of several thousand peop­le to this day. The priest can be reached around the clock. When he sleeps, his mobi­le pho­ne sits on his night stand, when he cele­bra­tes mass, someo­ne „guards“ it for him.

In 2006 Zerai foun­ded the aid orga­ni­za­ti­on „Agen­zia Habeshia“ in Ita­ly, who­se task it is, among other things, to sup­port migrants and refu­gees in their dealings with aut­ho­ri­ties and in mat­ters of inte­gra­ti­on. Soon Zerai and his orga­ni­za­ti­on also enga­ge in lob­by­ing and public rela­ti­ons work, he speaks on the radio and tele­vi­si­on, wri­tes to poli­ti­ci­ans and aid orga­ni­za­ti­ons. It is important for him to hold the peop­le respon­si­ble accoun­ta­ble. Asked for his moti­va­ti­on, Zerai sim­ply ans­wers: »When I hear that someo­ne is in dis­tress, then it is my human respon­si­bi­li­ty to help.«

Mus­sie Zerai’s com­mit­ment inspi­res imi­ta­ti­on: decisi­ve­ly infor­med by his examp­le, activists of the moni­to­ring-pro­ject „Watch the Med“ have in 2014 estab­lished ano­t­her hot­line for refu­gees in dis­tress at sea, the „Alarm Pho­ne“.

The PRO ASYL Foun­da­ti­on honors Mus­sie Zerai and his tireless effort for the res­cue and admis­si­on of refu­gees in dis­tress at sea with its human rights award 2016. The award cere­mo­ny takes place on 17 Sep­tem­ber 2016 at the „Haus am Dom“ in Frank­furt.

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